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Interview: Director Ondi Timoner Discusses Her Dual Roles as Director and Daughter in ‘Last Flight Home’

“For me, Dad’s departure was something I was in denial about.”

Death and denial can often go hand in hand. To lose somebody is unfathomable for most of us, and to accept that loss as a reality is even harder.

So when filmmaker Ondi Timoner learned that her 92-year-old father Eli wanted to voluntarily end his life in 2021, she and her family felt entirely unprepared.

“I think death and dying are something that, as a society, we’re just untrained as individuals to really think about and consider. It all just feels overwhelming and bewildering, so that’s where my family and I were.”

In his declining health, Eli Timoner told Ondi and her two siblings – Rachel and David – that he wanted to die. No longer able to walk, he couldn’t bear to put his children and their loving mother Lisa through that.

“I didn’t know how to help. He’s begging me to help him die. He’s in a hospital, and it’s COVID, and I can’t get in. I just kind of wanted to start the film there, because I feel like so many of us can relate to that disembodied voice of a family member or loved one who’s in the hospital and you can’t get to them.”

Nearly paralyzed with fear, Ondi turned to her most natural instinct. She grabbed her iPhone, and began recording.

Last Flight Home may have been borne out of the Timoner family’s collective anxiety regarding the loss of their patriarch, but Ondi’s dual role as both director and daughter allows her to inject an unexpected liveliness into the film.

“When my brother found that there was a law in California where [Eli] could legally do this after a fifteen-day waiting period…that’s when I went to a therapist.”

Ondi wanted to set up cameras and trace the final days of her father’s life, but she maintained some internal doubt as to whether or not it was a good idea. Her therapist quelled those concerns with the most simple of advice: “if you feel like you should film, you should film.”

The final product is therefore a uniquely intimate observation of a real-life family in crisis. A verité filmmaker, Ondi kept very little crew around, taking measures to ensure that she could capture her family members’ most personal moments, while still allowing them to feel the gravity of the moment themselves. Over the course of the film, loved ones gather around Eli as he imparts lasting wisdom, struggles to take his medicine, or delivers the hilarious one-liners everyone had come to expect over the years. Many tears are shed throughout Last Flight Home, and yet they are often paired with laughter.

Ondi refers to these moments in describing her father’s passing as a “good death”.

“Thanks to medical aid and dying in [California], we were able to really provide almost a celebration at the end of Dad’s life. It benefitted all of us. And Dad, you saw him go from totally despondent to the life of the party.”

Last Flight Home may have began as a means of comfort for those who knew Eli, but Ondi soon recognized the powerful impact her film could have on others. The film works to normalize death, and the Timoner family has continued that work beyond the film, advocating for California’s End of Life Option Act in other states around the country.

California is one of ten states where medical aid in dying is authorized, but Ondi hopes that her film and her broader activism can shed light on the dignity and autonomy that the process permits.

“Dad was so calm and tender and funny. He was really the captain of that room, and he would comfort everyone who came into it, even though he was the one dying. And I just sort of realized as I went from daughter to filmmaker that everybody is changed by this experience.”

Eli’s right to determine the end of his life is what allowed him to take on a leadership role within the grieving process, and is what ultimately put his youngest daughter at ease in directing this film. When Ondi went to her father to seek his blessing to make this film and capture this personal document of his final days, Eli had just a few words: “I instinctively know that you are on the right track”.

Last Flight Home is available to stream on Paramount+ and Amazon Prime Video.

Listen to the full conversation with Ondi Timoner below.


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4 months ago

Very insightful and touching interview. Looking forward to seeing this.



Written by Cory Stillman

Cory Stillman is a 25-year-old writer with a BA in Film and Media Studies from the University of Pittsburgh and an MA in International Film Business from the University of Exeter. His favorite movies are The Truman Show and Election. He's also obsessed with Planet of the Apes, Survivor, and the Philadelphia Eagles.

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